Debanking Fightback as Bank Boss Who Briefed Against Farage Resigns

NatWest Chief Executive Dame Alison Rose resigned on Wednesday morning, the latest shock development in a five-week saga triggered by the attempted debanking of Nigel Farage. The Brexit leader has said the whole NatWest board should resign next.

Despite the NatWest board saying it had full confidence in its CEO to carry on after she admitted she was responsible for leaking private information about Mr Brexit Nigel Farage to the UK state broadcaster, she resigned this morning. The development is another scalp for Mr Farage and possibly cementing a new rule in English public life that betting against Mr Farage can be fatal to career progression, as former Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May already found out.

Dame Alison Rose admitted on Tuesday night that she had made a “serious error of judgment” in discussing Nigel Farage, a customer of a bank in the NatWest group, with BBC man Simon Jack but claimed that she had only inadvertently allowed the journalist to come away “with the impression that the decision to close Mr Farage’s accounts was solely a commercial one.”

The admission answered the longstanding question of who it was in the bank that had briefed against Farage to the BBC, and piled on calls not just form Farage himself, but also from within government for those responsible to resign.

Nevertheless, the bank’s chairman Sir Howard Davies responded to that statement with one of his own that the decision would possibly impact the chief executive’s “renumeration” at a later date, but that nevertheless the board still had “full confidence” in her position as CEO, calling her an “outstanding leader”.

This changed overnight, with NatWest chairman Sir Howard revealing on Wednesday morning that “The board and Alison Rose have agreed, by mutual consent, that she will step down as CEO of the NatWest Group. It is a sad moment. She has dedicated all her working life so far to NatWest and will leave many colleagues who respect and admire her.”

Some questions remain to be asked, particularly in the differences between NatWest and the BBC’s accounts of how the story about Mr Farage’s financial situation came to be in the press at all, implying that someone, somewhere, is still being economical with the truth.

Responding to the development, Nigel Farage reflected that it was clear the basic principles of protecting client confidentiality in banking, as well as UK law were broken in his case and the resignation was the inevitable outcome of that. He said the statement by Dame Alison last night that she had only inadvertently leaked to the BBC was an attempt to “lie her way out of it”.

Nevertheless, this was just “a start” and Farage pointed the finger at the bank’s board of directors which said it had supported Rose despite her admission of wrongdoing, the chairman Sir Howard Davies, and the CEO of Coutts Peter Flavel, the exclusive banking house in the NatWest group which handled Mr Farage’s business and terminated his account over his political views. He said they should also all resign.

Farage told his broadcaster GBNews on Wednesday morning: “…it was the board that sanctioned this culture. A culture that talks about diversity and inclusion, but actually is very divisive, and in my case — as you can clearly see — is pretty poisonous stuff. I think any board member that endorsed that statement last night, which said that she breached confidentiality but she can stay? Frankly, I think the whole board needs to go.”

Farage also decried Rose’s claims that she wasn’t aware of what was going on at her bank and didn’t agree with what was said about Mr Farage in the bank’s internal document, saying that it was in fact her that pushed to introduce the new culture at the bank, transforming NatWest from a finance house to a “moral arbiter, virtually a political organisation”.

Revealing that he still doesn’t have a new personal and business bank account and that he’s been rejected for an account at ten other UK banks, Mr Farage warned the wider UK banking sector, which he said all shared Natwest’s culture, but simply hadn’t been exposed yet. He said: “I would address my comments to the ten banks who have thus far refused to have me as a customer, think again.

“This has happened to NatWest and unless you change your culture, change your views, get rid of your prejudice over Brexit and other issues”, controversy would also be coming their way, he warned.

“I am not accepted by the UK banking industry with its current culture. It is quite an extraordinary state of affairs.”

One feature underlining this saga has been unusually widespread support for Mr Farage, usually spoken of as being a dividing figure, in the UK public sphere. This morning Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer — a left-wing politician who could not be normally counted upon to have a kind word to say about the Brexit leader — spoke out to say what NatWest was wrong and it’s right CEO Rose resigned.

The achievement of making UK banking regulation frontpage news by Mr Farage dates back to his revelation last month that his bank — then unnamed — had notified him that it was going to terminate his accounts and then failed to engage in any further conversation with him about the matter. Then discovering that no other UK bank would offer him business accounts instead left Mr Farage concluding that he had been ‘debanked’ for political reasons and reporting this to the world.

This story took a potentially humiliating turn for Mr Farage when the BBC reported, citing bank sources and revealing the bank involved to be NatWest group member Coutts, that the decision wasn’t political, but merely commercial. Mr Farage simply wasn’t wealthy enough to continue banking with the ancient and exclusive institution, it was claimed.

Yet that story quickly started to unravel as many other Coutts customers came forward to reveal they didn’t have a million pounds sterling with Coutts and yet had never been threatened with termination. Farage making a demand for a subject access request — the legal right in the UK to receive documentation held on yourself from organisations — was the final blow, as it revealed not only that the initial claim that Farage’s debanking was political was correct, and that the BBC article was based on false information, but also that the decision was based on vindictive claims about Mr Farage.

These revelations triggered an avalanche of personal apologies, including by BBC journalists and now the bank involved. As reported today, shares in NatWest have slumped, wiping as much as £850 million off the value of the bank, an ironic state of affairs given Coutt’s whole rationale for debanking Mr Farage in the first place — as pithily observed — was to limit the reputational damage of having him as a customer.

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